Updated: Jun 28, 2021
The Nok people of Central Nigeria are renowned for their exquisite terracotta figurines. Theirs was a society that flourished from around 1500 BC – 500 AD until it mysteriously disappeared.
As to their economy, we know they cultivated millet and cowpeas but poor preservation conditions mean that we have no idea whether they had domesticated animals, or merely relied on hunting. But we now know that they were ardent bee hunters.
An international research team has examined the organic residues preserved on 458 potsherds from 12 Nok sites. Lipid biomarker analyses by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry revealed twenty-five lipid profiles that yielded the distinctive series of alkanoic acids from beeswax. Most likely, the lipids arose as a result of melting wax combs through gentle heating that absorbed wax into the vessel’s sides. Some vessels may also have been used as beehives, as they are today; others may have been used for storing or heating honey.
Today, honey remains an important food and beverage base for many African societies, as it was in ancient times. And no question, wild honeybees were exploited for their products long before Nok appeared on the scene around 3500 years ago. We know this from cave paintings found in southern Africa, but also Spain, India, Arabia, and Australia, that date to between 40,000 and 8,000 years ago.